Interview - Tim Fell, chairman, Turfgrass Growers Association

A game of football or a round of golf is about the extent of most people's relationship with turf. But while the intricacies of quality turf-growing may bypass its end users, those in the know will appreciate the work that goes into getting that pristine finish.

Tim Fell, chairman, Turfgrass Growers' Association - photo: TGA
Tim Fell, chairman, Turfgrass Growers' Association - photo: TGA

New Turfgrass Growers Association (TGA) chairman Tim Fell, appointed earlier this week, believes there is a world of opportunity awaiting the industry. He is determined to raise the profile of the association as a body of highly knowledgeable professionals passi.onate about their product.

"Members of the TGA are already leaders in the industry when it comes to innovation, quality and service," he says. "We want to continue to set the standard for turf production in this country."

His two-year stint as chairman comes at a time of unprecedented challenges for the turf industry. The recession is having a major impact on the income of turf growers, some of whose businesses are underpinned to a large extent by the property market.

However, the highly specialist sportsturf market is less affected, explains Fell, whose company Tillers Turf has been growing turf in Lincolnshire for 20 years. "Turf growers are generally quite strong and have had a few years of reasonably good times," he says.

"We have been able to invest during that time in specialist machinery, but everyone realises 2009 will be a challenging time. The economy is set to contract over the year and that will inevitably have an effect on us."

He says the sector responded early to the crisis, with many growers putting less acreage into turf this year in anticipation of slower sales. "We had that warning and were able to do something about it, but the difficulty is knowing how soon things are going to start going up again," adds Fell.

The value of turf will undoubtedly come to the attention of politicians as a recognition of the need for more flood-tolerant landscapes becomes stronger.

Fell is eager to praise the work of former chairman Robert Adcock, the TGA council and chief executive Tim Mudge in promoting the benefits of turf and addressing issues affecting turf production. "The message is getting through that turf is the unsung hero of the landscape," he says. "Water companies recognise that turf has a crucial role to play in reducing run-off and in recharging ground water. And in a wider sense, the use of turf is one of the simplest ways of managing the urban heat island effect."

A major event for this year will be the biennial Turf Show, which is being hosted by Q Lawns, in Thetford, Norfolk, on 24 June. It will be one of the first significant dates in Fell's period as chairman and he is determined to make sure it is a success. "Turf growers will be going specifically to see new machinery and if everyone is correct in seeing an economic recovery in 2010 I am sure they will be thinking about buying again, because the next show is not until 2011."

Staying on top of recent legislation on pesticides that was passed by the EU in January has been critical for the industry, and Fell says he expects to see strides made in new cultivars and turf-growing practices. He urges growers to look to the future of production: "We have to acknowledge things are going to change. People have been talking about sustainable landscapes for a long time and fortunately some of the seed houses have taken that up. They are putting huge effort into producing improved cultivars but it can be hard to bring a grass to market at the time it is needed."

More disease resistance and less need for mowing or watering are features that are attractive to clients, adds Fell. "Landscape architects, in particular, are being asked by their clients to produce sustainable landscapes, which means not having to mow, feed or water their lawns as much, particularly in the South East where water for landscapes will be more and more expensive.

"There will be more interesting varieties coming through that enable us to use fewer fungicides and herbicides."

The TGA is keen to ensure that turf is not seen as being an extreme user of water and last year produced a guidance document for watering newly laid turf during discretionary use bans.

"There is no reason at all for irrigating lawns - that is something we have been trying to promote," says Fell. "Turf is hugely beneficial to the environment and we shouldn't underestimate the major contribution it makes to our lives."

1979: Degree in agricultural botany

1980: Agronomist for Commonwealth Development Corporation, Swaziland

1982: Chemical representative for Fisons

1986: Farms on family farm

1989: Sets up Tillers Turf

2009: Chairman, Turfgrass Growers Association

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